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Webster

Webster is an ABC Network\syndicated sitcom created by Stu Silver which first aired on ABC from September 16, 1983 to May 8, 1987, and then in first-run syndication from September 21, 1987 to March 10, 1989, lasting for six seasons & 150 episodes.

Plot

The series was about the life of a young boy named Webster, who is adopted by his godfather (who was a professional football player) and his wife after the death of his parents in a car accident.

Cast

  • Emmanuel Lewis as Webster Long
  • Alex Karras as George Papadopolis
  • Susan Clark as Katherine Calder-Young Papadopolis
  • Henry Polic II as Jerry Silver
  • Eugene Roche as Bill Parker (1984–1986)
  • Cathryn Damon as Cassie Parker (1984–1986)
  • Ben Vereen as Uncle Phillip Long (1984–1985)

Recurring Cast

  • Jack Kruschen as George "Papa" Papadopolis, Sr. (1985–1987)
  • Chad Allen as Rob Whitaker/Joiner (1985–1986)
  • Carl Steven as Roger (1986–1987)
  • Danny McMurphy as Timmy (1986–1987)
  • Gabe Witcher as Tommy (1987)
  • Nick DeMauro as Benny (1987)
  • Corin Nemec as Nicky Papadopolis (1987–1988) (credited as Corin "Corky" Nemec)

Production

When Alex Karras and Susan Clark got married in real life, they started their own production company, Georgian Bay Ltd.

ABC approached the couple about a sitcom development deal which resulted in a proposed romantic-comedy series called "Another Ballgame" to star Karras as an ex-NFL player who quickly found true love with a socialite consumer advocate on a cruise.

ABC picked up the series for the fall 1983 schedule, with Paramount Television as packager, but major changes would occur before the premiere.

After seeing Emmanuel Lewis in a Burger King commercial, ABC's programming chief, Lew Erlicht, wanted to give the actor his own series.

At this time, "Another Ballgame" creator Stu Silver desired to develop an original show based on the lead characters portrayed by Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy in the film, "Woman of the Year" and saw Alex Karras and Susan Clark's on-screen chemistry as being strikingly reminiscent of this.

The network felt the need to cast Lewis in a project quickly before he grew another inch (like child actor Gary Coleman, who was also small for his age, Lewis would end up at 4'3".)

With the number of comedy pilots ABC had greenlit for that fall's schedule, it was likely that Lewis would not be able to get his own series and timeslot unless he was worked into already-existing comedy projects.

So, among others shows, co-producers on "Another Ballgame" were approached about working Lewis into the show. Stars Karras and Clark liked the idea about the sudden marriage and instant adoption of a young black boy, and the Webster character was thus created.

The premise of Webster's parents' death and his inclusion into the Papadopoulos household, originated with the second phase of the pilot which had the show's title changed to "Then Came You."

Executives soon made it clear that the show's major focus would be on the Webster character, instead of it being a split romantic/family comedy.

The character of George Papadopolis' buddy and broadcasting colleague, played by Art LaFleur, was summarily dropped from the regular cast; once getting to air, LaFleur only appeared in the pilot.

However, Karras and Clark did not approve this round of changes, as creative control was still in their hands with Georgian Bay. However, Clark originally prevented their co-producers and ABC from changing the series' title to "Webster" since she wanted to maintain the ensemble aspect of the series.

While early promotions for the sitcom carried the title "Then Came You", network politics would end up violating Clark's request; the brass ultimately settled on Webster just before its fall premiere.

Webster premiered in September of 1983 and was an instant hit. From the start, the final product was drawing close comparisons to NBC's popular sitcom, "Diff'rent Strokes" which featured the diminutive Gary Coleman as a young black boy adopted by a white family.

However, the main differences were that Lewis' character of Webster Long had an adoptive mother and father from the start who had no children, whereas Coleman's character Arnold Jackson was adopted by a widower with a daughter. Also, Coleman's short stature was due to a congenital kidney condition, whereas Lewis was completely healthy and had no pre-existing condition to explain his height.

Eventually, in the fall of 1985, "Webster" would be joined on ABC's Friday night lineup by "Diff'rent Strokes" when the latter moved to ABC for what turned out to be its eighth and final season.

Despite the early success, the show that made it to the air as "Webster" was not what Karras and Clark foresaw as their ideal starring vehicle.

The first season was fraught with tension, between the couple's disagreements and their protests with Paramount and ABC. After the initial episodes that set up the show's premise (George and Katherine's wedding, Webster's arrival and the resulting adjustments) were shot, most of the plots became exclusively Webster-driven, even though it was the writers' intention to include story elements that focused on George and Katherine as much as possible.

The show's married stars did win many of the early script disputes and several first-season episodes did get to focus on the new marriage and lives of the adult leads. The in-fighting on set continued, and especially had an effect on Lewis.

Reportedly, Lewis was often whisked away from the set whenever Karras and Clark argued and demanded rewrites. It became so severe that Lewis blamed the trouble on himself.

After the show's first season ended, ABC stopped pushing hard for "all Webster, all the time"; Paramount eventually came to an agreement with Karras and Clark that they would continue to get prominent storylines for their characters.

In the long run, the series did become part romantic and part family-oriented, as Clark and Karras wanted it to be; the series was also regarded for handling Webster's childhood stories in a more sophisticated, intelligent fashion than other comedies of the time that relied on preachy, heavy-handed morals to tell a story.

The only condition that Paramount laid out for Clark and Karras was that Lewis (who ABC saw as a money maker above all else) would get production credit alongside them. As a result, "Emmanuel Lewis Entertainment Enterprises, Inc." was launched in 1986, acting as another production company for "Webster" starting in its fourth season.

By the third season, the stormy relations of the first season disappeared on set. The main cast bonded well from then on, with Karras becoming a surrogate father figure to Lewis.

Webster director Joel Zwick, in his interview for the 2003 "E! True Hollywood Story" on Emmanuel Lewis, remarked that, "As far as TV sitcom families go, it took them longer than most to acclimate to each other."

Over the course of the fourth season, ratings dropped sharply. The show (which had been a Nielsen top 30 series) ranked 46th by the end of the season.

Although ABC still saw Emmanuel Lewis especially as a bankable star (having recently featured him in his first self-headlined prime-time special, "Emmanuel Lewis: My Very Own Show" which aired in February 1987 and featured Lewis performing alongside Sammy Davis, Jr., Bob Hope and other big-name celebrities), the network felt that "Webster" was past its peak in terms of ratings, and was unsure that it would ever regain the higher numbers like it had during the early seasons.

Having been the Friday night 8 p.m. anchor since March of 1985, "Webster" moved back to the "protected" time slot of 8:30/7:30 on Fridays in March of 1987. ABC announced the series' cancellation in May of that same year.

Cancellation and the move to syndication

Even though "Webster" had seen its overall ratings decline leading into its cancellation, the series had always drawn a large audience of younger viewers; in fact, the show's largest audience was children.

At the time of the cancellation of "Webster" by ABC, there was a trend in syndication of seeing various television series that had been cancelled by the three major networks find new life as weekly syndicated series (examples including "Too Close for Comfort", "Mama's Family", "Charles in Charge" and "It's a Living").

Even before "Webster" fell out of the Nielsen top 30 on ABC, Paramount had signed an exclusive deal with the show's producers to continue the show in first-run syndication if the network eventually had reason to cancel it before it reached its 100th episode. (This package deal also gave the same option to the Paramount-produced series "Cheers" and Family Ties" if either of them were to see an early demise on NBC, but both series enjoyed long runs.)

Although "Webster" managed to hit its hundredth episode at the end of its final season on ABC, Paramount decided to exercise their option to keep the show in production.

By doing this Paramount was no longer bound by network standards and could easily target the young audience that made up the majority of its "Webster" viewer base. Paramount's syndication arm began a drive to sell the series to local stations, and enough bought the series to enable a fifth season to be produced.

The fifth season of "Webster" premiered in syndication on September 21, 1987, with a three-episode story arc which saw Webster, George and Katherine head to San Francisco, California.

Beginning with the fourth episode of the season, the Papadopolis household gained a new member in George's nephew Nicky, who moved in when his parents went off to work in Nigeria on assignment for the United Nations. Nicky provided Webster with a sort of "brother figure" and the two of them got along famously. However, Nicky was gone from the show at the start of season six.

Although he no longer a regular when the series moved to first-run syndication, Papa Papadopolis continued to make a few guest appearances during the fifth and sixth seasons, as did Webster's friend, Tommy and malt shop owner Benny.

While the lead character's plots continued to mature somewhat with Webster's onset of pre-teendom, the same "cutesy factor" remained, thanks in part to Lewis' timing and portrayal. However, this was something Lewis was slowly tiring of, despite the fact that he had more creative control over Webster at this point.

Now 17 years old and about to complete his high school education (which was followed by his enrollment at Clark Atlanta University in 1989), Lewis didn't have the desire to continue portraying a character that was roughly half his age.

Ultimately, due to Lewis' height, the character of Webster Long was only depicted between the ages of 6 and 12 years old over the show's six seasons. Early in the 1988–89 season, with Lewis clearly outgrowing the title role, Karras and Clark also decided that the time was right to move on.

The sixth season of "Webster" was announced to be its last, with the finale airing on March 10, 1989.

Instead of a typical series finale, the last episode (titled "Webtrek") saw Webster, George and Katherine go on an adventure aboard the Starship Enterprise from the series' Paramount-produced sibling, "Star Trek: The Next Generation". There, they interact with Lt. Worf (Michael Dorn) from TNG, whom Webster attempts to humanize, while a series of Webster flashbacks are shown that depict the concept of feelings.

Attempted Spin-Off Series

The season three episode, "Almost Home" (which aired on February 21, 1986) served as a backdoor pilot for a proposed spinoff of "Webster."

In the episode, Webster flies out to visit "Uncle" Jake Tyler (played by country music star Mac Davis), a former college classmate of George Papadapolis and Travis Long and country music recording artist who was now caring for several foster children.

Jake's background was promptly explained, in which the death of his young son and subsequent divorce from his wife prompted him to begin working in a foster home. During Webster's stay with him, the young mother of one of Jake's foster sons (played by Faith Ford) arrives to regain custody of her son, and Jake endures a lot of pain as a result of his emotional attachment to the boy.

The foster children, who ranged from preschool age to teenage, were played by Edan Gross, Billy Lombardo (also known for starring in the Punky Brewster backdoor pilot, "Fenster Hall" in 1985), Shannon & Robin Lynch, Larry O. Williams, Jr. (who had previously guest starred as different characters on "Webster" both in the first season and earlier in the third), and Ben Ryan Ganger.

There were also appearances by Norman Fell and Allyn Ann McLerie, who could have been part of the spinoff cast as well if the concept had made it to series.

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